Latest Scholarship

November 29, 2016

New Op-Eds by King Hall Faculty

In recent weeks, King Hall faculty have written several opinion pieces for the press.

Kevin R. Johnson in The Sacramento Bee: Trump's Immigration Promises Fraught with Obstacles

The Obama administration used detention aggressively in 2014, when the nation experienced the migration of thousands of women and children fleeing violence in Central America. That detention has resulted in litigation. In addition, the Supreme Court will soon hear a constitutional challenge to detention without possibility for release and any review by a court. Increased use of detention by a Trump administration is likely to result in many lawsuits. Expect those lawsuits to last for years.

Brian Soucek in The Los Angeles Times: Stop Proposition 8, and Marriage Inequality in California, from Making a Comeback

A federal district court judge found Proposition 8 unconstitutional in 2010, but legal appeals kept it alive until 2013, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling finally allowed same-sex weddings to resume in California. Laws that are found unconstitutional don't get erased; they just lose their legal force. So the text of the ban lies in wait, ready to spring back into action if given the chance. The election of Donald Trump might provide that chance.

Irene Oritseweyinmi Joe in The Los Angeles Times: Like Many Immigrants, I Owe a Debt to the Republican Party - of the 1980s

Imagine their surprise, however, when I let them know that, although I disagreed with some of Reagan's policies, there was one for which I would always be grateful. My family had been undocumented immigrants, and it was the Reagan amnesty program that allowed us to exit the shadows.

Jasmine E. Harris in the Tribune News Wire (providing content for news media around the world): The Right to Vote for People with Mental Disabilities

Beyond physical obstructions to poll sites, voters with mental disabilities -- including learning disabilities, autism, Down syndrome as well as dementia and Alzheimer's -- face an even greater challenge in casting their ballots: deeply entrenched stereotypes that shape election law and policy. The majority of states deny these citizens, either by law or common practice, the right to vote.

Elizabeth Joh in Slate: Five Lessons from the Rise of Bodycams

More than two years after Ferguson became a hashtag, spawned a movement, and drew national attention to problems about police accountability, the most tangible reform has been the spread of police body cameras. Their use seemed like a clear solution to problems of trust and oversight, but the reality hasn't been that simple. Body cameras have introduced new problems of their own. How can we do better when the next new police technology arrives? Here are five things to keep in mind.

Elizabeth Joh in NYTimes.com's Room for Debate: Should the President Be Able to Block You on Twitter?

Like granting the White House press pool access, the president’s social media obligations may ultimately be decided as a matter of custom. In a democratic society that values transparency and accountability, keeping the social media account of a president open to all ought to be part of these customs.

September 25, 2015

"Liberty or Equality?" and the Obergefell Opinion

On Wednesday, September 23, I presented the annual Anthony Kennedy Lecture at the Lewis & Clark Law School.  The subject of my talk was "Liberty or Equality?", and the topic was Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in the recent Obergefell case, recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  In the first part of my lecture, I placed the Obergefell opinion in context, taking into account Justice Kennedy's place on the current Court, and his past jurisprudence.  In particular, I noted that while Justice Kennedy is undoubtedly the co-called "swing Justice" on the Roberts Court, he is quite different from past swing Justices such as Sandra Day O'Connor and Lewis Powell.  The latter were considered to be moderate pragmatists, lacking strong judicial philosophies.  Not so for Justice Kennedy.  From his first years on the Court, his jurisprudence has been notable for a passionate commitment to Liberty in all of its aspect, and his firm belief that protection for Liberty is intrinsically tied to protection of individual Dignity.  This commitment appears in his  privacy jurisprudence of course (culminating in Obergefell), but also in other areas including notably free speech -- it is no coincidence that Kennedy is the preeminent advocate of First Amendment liberties on the modern Court.  Moreover, unlike his colleagues, Justice Kennedy's commitment to liberty transcends political boundaries, encompassing such "liberal" Liberty claims as abortion and the free speech rights of pornographers, and such "conservative" claims as property rights and commercial speech.  It is this lack of partisanship, rather than lack of philosophy, that has placed Justice Kennedy at the center of the modern Court.

I then stirred up the pot a bit by raising some doubts about Obergefell, at least as written.  I noted that the plaintiffs in the case had raised both Due Process (i.e., Liberty), and Equal Protection (i.e., Equality) claims, and the Court's formulation of the questions presented preserved both.  Yet Kennedy's opinion is almost all Liberty, with a tiny dollop of Equality almost as an afterthought.  I suggested that this emphasis is probably a product of Kennedy's own preferences and comfort levels.  While Justice Kennedy has always been a strong advocate of Liberty claims, his relationship to Equality is more ambivalent.  He unquestionably is firmly committed to nondiscrimination principles, and even (unlike his conservative colleagues) a commitment to racial integration.  However, he has demonstrated -- notably in affirmative action cases -- grave discomfort with policies that classify individuals based on qualities such as race.  Indeed, this discomfort ties into his commitment to Dignity, because he sees such typecasting as itself in consistent with individual Dignity.  As a consequence, Liberty must have seemed the easier path to take.

Ultimately, however, I do believe this choice was a mistake, for several reasons.  First, I think that jurisprudentially, Equality is the stronger argument.  The Court's entire substantive due process jurisprudence, which was the basis of the Due Process holding in Obergefell, rests on somewhat shaky foundations, given its lack of textual grounding.  Equal Protection, on the other hand, is a well-established, textually based doctrine.  And the argument for extending heightened scrutiny to discrimination against LGBT individuals strikes me as extremely powerful, under existing precedent.  Second, an Equality based holding would have been broader, granter more protections to sexual minorities than a narrow decision focused on marriage.  Third, it is possible that an Equality based holding would have generated less intense opposition than a holding that redefines marriage (though this is admittedly speculative).  Finally, I also believe that Justice Jackson was correct in his argument, in the Railway Express case, that in a democracy, equality-based constitutional decisions are generally preferable to liberty-based ones, because they interfere less in legislative authority.

May 1, 2015

New Research from the Faculty at UC Davis School of Law

Here is a look at some of the most recent scholarship from UC Davis School of Law faculty from the Social Science Research Network's Legal Scholarship Network. Click through the links to download the works.

LEGAL SCHOLARSHIP NETWORK: LEGAL STUDIES RESEARCH PAPER SERIES
UC DAVIS SCHOOL OF LAW

"Productive Tensions: Women's NGOs, the 'Mainstream' Human Rights Movement, and International Lawmaking" Free Download
Non-State Actors, Soft Law and Protective Regimes: From the Margins (Cecilia M. Bailliet ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012).
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 422

KARIMA BENNOUNE, University of California, Davis - School of Law

Non-govermental organizations (NGOs) are among the most discussed non-state actors involved in the creation, interpretation, and application of international law. Yet, scholars of international law have often over looked the critical issue of diversity among NGOs, and the differing stances they may take on key international law issues and controversies. This oversight exemplifies the ways in which international law scholarship sometimes takes overly unitary approaches to its categories of analysis. Feminist international law questions the accuracy of such approaches. When one unpacks the "NGO" category, one often discovers multiple NGO constituencies reflecting conflicting concerns and perspectives. Hence, feminist international law theories should reflect a view of NGOs as international lawmakers that is equally complexified.

This chapter will focus on one example of such NGO diversity, namely the inter-NGO dynamic sometimes found between women's human rights NGOs and what is often termed the "mainstream" human rights movement. These relationships have long been complicated . At times these constituencies are allies with the same international law priorities. At other times they are opponents or at least involved in what might be described as a tense dialogue. Sometimes the "mainstream" human rights groups become themselves the targets of the lobbying of women's human rights groups. Indeed, women's human rights NGOs and other human rights NGOs may have very different views of particular inter­ national law questions . Over time, however, the women's rights groups have often - though not always - prevailed on human rights groups to evolve their view of international law in a more gender-sensitive direction.

This dialectical relationship between women's groups and other human rights groups has played out in numerous arenas, including in the 1990s debate over the definition of torture, and, most recently in regard to the need to (also) respond to atrocities by fundamentalist non-state actors in the context of critiquing the "war on terror:' In each instance, women's groups and other human rights NGOs have some­ times had uneasy, multifaceted and shifting relationships that have shaped critical international lawmaking processes and debates. Groups within both of those broad categories of NGOs have also taken diamet­rically opposed positions at times. All of these sets of complexities, these putatively productive tensions, have both enriched and rendered more difficult the role of NGOs as lawmakers, and must be reflected in any meaningful theorizing of the issue.

What then should these layered inter-NGO dynamics tell us about our conception of "NGO" as a category of analysis, and about the role of NGOs in the creation and practice of international law? What can analyzing these dynamics tell us about how progress can most success­ fully be made toward a feminist reshaping of international law? This chapter will consider each of these questions in light of several case studies.

I come at this subject from a range of vantage points, having been an Amnesty International legal adviser, having also worked closely with a range of women's NGOs, and currently as an academic. Hence, I will try to look at these questions at the intersection of both academic and these various practitioner perspectives. To that end, this chapter begins with a brief overview of NGOs and their roles on the inter­national law stage, as described in the literature. An examination of the categories used here follows, interrogating the meaning of the terms, "women's human rights NGO" and "mainstream human rights NGO." Subsequently, the chapter reviews the case studies drawn from practice, first with regard to NGO interaction concerning the definition of torture, and then bearing on responses to the "war on terror." It then concludes with a brief application of the lessons learned from these case studies about the meaning of NGO participation in international lawmaking.

"Administering Section 2 of the VRA After Shelby County" Free Download
Columbia Law Review, vol. 115 Forthcoming
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 372

CHRISTOPHER S. ELMENDORF, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cselmendorf@ucdavis.edu
DOUGLAS M. SPENCER, University of Connecticut, School of Law
Email: dspencer@berkeley.edu

Until the Supreme Court put an end to it in Shelby County v. Holder, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was widely regarded as an effective, low-cost tool for blocking potentially discriminatory changes to election laws and administrative practices. The provision the Supreme Court left standing, Section 2, is generally seen as expensive, cumbersome and almost wholly ineffective at blocking changes before they take effect. This paper argues that the courts, in partnership with the Department of Justice, could reform Section 2 so that it fills much of the gap left by the Supreme Court's evisceration of Section 5. The proposed reformation of Section 2 rests on two insights: first, that national survey data often contains as much or more information than precinct-level vote margins about the core factual matters in Section 2 cases; second, that the courts have authority to create rebuttable presumptions to regularize Section 2 adjudication. Section 2 cases currently turn on costly, case-specific estimates of voter preferences generated from precinct-level vote totals and demographic information. Judicial decisions provide little guidance about how future cases - each relying on data from a different set of elections - are likely to be resolved. By creating evidentiary presumptions whose application in any given case would be determined using national survey data and a common statistical model, the courts could greatly reduce the cost and uncertainty of Section 2 litigation. This approach would also end the dependence of vote-dilution claims on often-unreliable techniques of ecological inference, and would make coalitional claims brought jointly by two or more minority groups much easier to litigate.

"Bait, Mask, and Ruse: Technology and Police Deception" Free Download
128 Harvard Law Review Forum 246 (2015)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 423

ELIZABETH E. JOH, U.C. Davis School of Law
Email: eejoh@ucdavis.edu

Deception and enticement have long been tools of the police, but new technologies have enabled investigative deceit to become more powerful and pervasive. Most of the attention given to today's advances in police technology tends to focus either on online government surveillance or on the use of algorithms for predictive policing or threat assessment. No less important but less well known, however, are the enhanced capacities of the police to bait, lure, and dissemble in order to investigate crime. What are these new deceptive capabilities, and what is their importance?

"Richard Delgado's Quest for Justice for All" Free Download
Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, 2015, Forthcoming
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 421

KEVIN R. JOHNSON, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: krjohnson@ucdavis.edu

This is a contribution to a symposium celebrating Richard Delgado's illustrious career in law teaching. This commentary offers some thoughts on Delgado's contributions to pushing the boundaries of Critical Race Theory - and legal scholarship generally - in seeking to create a more just society. This ambitious program has been the overarching theme to his scholarly agenda throughout his career.

"Leaving No (Nonmarital) Child Behind" Free Download
48 Family Law Quarterly 495 (2014)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 414

COURTNEY G. JOSLIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cgjoslin@ucdavis.edu

Almost ten years, in 2005, I wrote a piece for the Family Law Quarterly describing the legal status of children born to same-sex couples. This Essay explores the some of the positive and some of the worrisome developments in the law since that time. On the positive side, today many more states extend some level of protection to the relationships between nonbiological same-sex parents and their children. Moreover, in many of these states, lesbian nonbiological parents are now treated as full, equal legal parents, even in the absence of an adoption.

There are other recent developments, however, that should be cause for concern. Specifically, this Essay considers recent legislative proposals that contract (rather than expand) existing protections for functional, nonmarital parents. I conclude by arguing that while advocates should celebrate the growing availability of marriage for same-sex couples, they must also be careful not to push legislative efforts that inadequately protect the large and growing numbers of families that exist outside of marriage.

"Amici Curiae Brief of Family Law Professors in Obergefell v. Hodges" Free Download
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 420

COURTNEY G. JOSLIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cgjoslin@ucdavis.edu
JOAN HEIFETZ HOLLINGER, University of California, Berkeley - School of Law
Email: joanhol@law.berkeley.edu

This Amici Curiae brief was filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of 74 scholars of family law in the four consolidated same-sex marriage cases.

The two questions presented in the cases concern whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license or recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex. Those defending the marriage bans rely on two primary arguments: first, that a core, defining element of marriage is the possibility of biological, unassisted procreation; and second, that the "optimal" setting for raising children is a home with their married, biological mothers and fathers. The brief demonstrates that these asserted rationales conflict with basic family laws and policies in every state, which tell a very different story.

"Fracking and Federalism: A Comparative Approach to Reconciling National and Subnational Interests in the United States and Spain" Free Download
Environmental Law, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2014
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 424

ALBERT LIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: aclin@ucdavis.edu

Hydraulic fracturing presents challenges for oversight because its various effects occur at different scales and implicate distinct policy concerns. The uneven distribution of fracturing's benefits and burdens, moreover, means that national and subnational views regarding fracturing's desirability are likely to diverge. This Article examines the tensions between national and subnational oversight of hydraulic fracturing in the United States, where the technique has been most commonly deployed, and Spain, which is contemplating its use for the first time. Drawing insights from the federalism literature, this Article offers recommendations for accommodating the varied interests at stake in hydraulic fracturing policy within the contrasting governmental systems of these two countries.

"Access to Justice in Rural Arkansas" Free Download
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 426

LISA R. PRUITT, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: lrpruitt@ucdavis.edu
J. CLIFF MCKINNEY, Independent
Email: cmckinney@QGTlaw.com
JULIANA FEHRENBACHER, Independent
Email: jfehr@ucdavis.edu
AMY DUNN JOHNSON, Independent
Email: adjohnson@arkansasjustice.org

This policy brief, written for and distributed by the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, reports two sets of data related to the shortage of lawyers in rural Arkansas. The first set of data regards the number of lawyers practicing in each of the state's 25 lowest-population counties and the ratio of lawyers per 1,000 residents in each of those counties. This data is juxtaposed next to the poverty rate and population of each of county.

The policy brief also reports the results of a survey of Arkansas lawyers and law students, the latter from both the University of Arkansas Fayetteville Law School and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock/Bowen School of Law. These surveys probed respondents' attitudes toward rural practice, among other matters. The policy brief reports a summary of those responses. Finally, the policy brief reports on a 2015 legislative proposal aimed at alleviating the shortage of lawyers serving rural Arkansans.

This policy brief is a forerunner to a fuller, academic analysis of these and other data sets relevant to the geography of access to justice in Arkansas. That analysis will appear in an article that will be published by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Journal (forthcoming 2015). The authors anticipate that these investigations in Arkansas may provide a model for other states concerned about the shortage of lawyers working in rural areas.

"Using Taxes to Improve Cap and Trade, Part I: Distribution" Free Download
75 State Tax Notes 99 (2015)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 425

DAVID GAMAGE, University of California, Berkeley - Boalt Hall School of Law
Email: david.gamage@gmail.com
DARIEN SHANSKE, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: dshanske@ucdavis.edu

In this article, the first of a series, we analyze the distributional issues involved in implementing U.S. state level cap-and-trade regimes. Specifically, we will argue that the structure of California's AB 32 regime will unnecessarily disadvantage lower-income Californians under the announced plan to give away approximately half of the permits to businesses and pollution-emitting entities.

 

February 13, 2015

Just How Lawless Are the Alabama State Court Judges Who Have Been Refusing to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses?

Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

This week offered quite the spectacle in Alabama. Relying on a recent ruling from United States District Court Judge Callie Granade, based in Mobile, that struck down the provision in the Alabama state constitution that prohibits recognition of same-sex marriage, many gay and lesbian couples around the state began getting marriage licenses. But other same-sex couples, mainly in more conservative counties, have been unable to obtain licenses because some state probate judges (who issue marriage licenses in that state) are continuing to abide by the state-law ban on same-sex marriage, notwithstanding Judge Granade's ruling that such discrimination violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution. And on Monday Judge Granade herself declined requests to hold probate judges who refused to issue same-sex licenses in contempt of her federal court and its orders. Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy S. Moore, has been issuing statements about the limits of federal power that remind many observers of the days of George Wallace, and maybe even Jefferson Davis. So what is going on here? And do the state court judges who are continuing to enforce Alabama's discriminatory marriage-license regime have a legal leg to stand on? In the space below, I try to separate the strands of the tangle, and to highlight which legal questions have clear answers and which don't.

Let us first take the easy question of whether Justice Moore's broad-based challenge to federal judicial authority holds up. It does not. Justice Moore has said that the federal courts have no authority over the state-law institution of marriage and that federal district judges cannot require state judges to follow federal trial court rulings. These ambitious sentiments are certainly wrong if they are taken to mean that a federal court cannot award meaningful relief to plaintiffs who successfully challenge the application of state law to them. Federal district courts can vindicate the federal rights of federal plaintiffs, even if those rights involve the institution of marriage, and even if it is state judges (as is the case in Alabama's regime) who issue the marriage licenses that are being wrongfully and unequally withheld. So a federal district court has undeniable power to order state officials, including state judges, to provide victorious federal plaintiffs a remedy to redress their constitutional violations. Such power to adjudicate and vindicate federal rights is emphatically what federal courts are for. That's Constitutional Law I/Marbury v. Madison-kind of stuff.

The Limits on Federal District Court Remedial Reach

Why, then, did District Court Judge Granade not hold state court judges in contempt for withholding marriage licenses? After all, contempt of court-with its coercive sanctions-is usually what we invoke to ensure that people comply with federal court orders. (I should point out here that individuals who violate federal court orders are generally punishable for contempt even when the federal court orders themselves go too far and are later determined to be illegal.) The answer is that the formal remedy provided by Judge Granade-the technical order she issued after finding the Alabama same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional-did not, as she herself understood it, extend to all probate judges who interact with all same-sex couples throughout the state. While Judge Granade could and should hold in contempt any state official who refuses to recognize the marriage of the particular same-sex couple who brought the case in her court and won, Judge Granade was likely correct not to try to punish probate judges for withholding relief as to other same-sex couples.

The reason for this is that the weight of authority tends to suggest-as a leading casebook puts things-that "a [federal district] court can enjoin [a] defendant only with respect to the defendant's treatment of plaintiffs actually before the court, either individually or as part of a certified class" (emphasis added). Because there was no class certified in the case before Judge Granade-it was brought by one same-sex couple-Judge Granade's remedial authority is technically limited to the particular plaintiffs before her. Thus, even if her legal reasoning invalidating Alabama's same-sex marriage ban is valid-and even if it is likely that her interpretation of the federal Constitution will be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court later this year-state court judges who continue to enforce the state-law ban as to other couples are likely not defying federal authority in a way that can be punished.

This also means that, as a technical matter, the problem (if one views remedial limitations as a problem, though many would view them as a virtue that makes federal judicial power less scary) won't necessarily be solved by trying to name every probate judge in Alabama as a party to a case in Judge Granade's docket. If a federal judge cannot order state judges to provide relief to anyone other than the federal plaintiffs before her, then same-sex couples throughout the state will not all necessarily benefit by extending Judge Granade's orders to cover additional defendants in additional cases involving additional named couples; the remedial limitation is defined by the identity of the plaintiffs, not the identity of the defendants.

So when Judge Granade yesterday afternoon ruled, in a second case, that one probate judge who had been refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses must begin issuing them, her order was still limited to the particular plaintiffs (four same-sex couples) who were in her court asking for relief. As Judge Granade wrote yesterday: "If Plaintiffs take all steps that are required in the normal course of business as a prerequisite to issuing a marriage license to opposite-sex couples, Judge Davis may not deny them a license on the ground that Plaintiffs constitute same-sex couples or because it is prohibited by the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act or by any other Alabama law or Order pertaining to same-sex marriage" (emphasis added).

Now it may well be that as more and more probate judges are instructed to issue licenses to named plaintiffs in more and more cases, all of the probate judges in the state will start issuing licenses to all same-sex couples who apply, regardless of whether those couples are victorious plaintiffs in any federal case. But that will not be because the state court judges are under a federal court order that obliges them to do so, but because they choose to do so in light of the decisional trend.

I should note that the conventional rule that I describe here-that a federal trial court's relief should normally be granted only to the actual plaintiffs in the case-does not forbid the court, even outside of a class action setting, from ordering relief that in fact goes beyond protecting the named plaintiffs and also protects other would-be plaintiffs, if full relief cannot be given to the named plaintiffs without also necessarily regulating the defendants' interactions with other persons. (For example, in one case, a court was justified in ordering the police to stop enforcing a motorcycle helmet law overly aggressively as to all riders-and not just as to the plaintiffs-because highway patrol officers would have no way of distinguishing plaintiffs from non-plaintiffs before pulling someone over.) But in the present setting, full relief (i.e., marriage licenses and recognition) can be given to named plaintiffs without ordering the defendants to give licenses to anyone else.

Some have argued that providing full relief to named same-sex plaintiff couples requires allowing all same-sex couples in the state to marry, because absent such broad access to same-sex marriage, the named plaintiffs' marriages would continue to be subject to stigma. But I don't think that this stigma argument works, because if it did, then same-sex couples whose marriages are already recognized would have standing to challenge bans on same-sex marriage that are preventing others from marrying, and I don't think any federal court would recognize standing in such circumstances.

I should also point out that some federal judges believe that a district court can order government agencies to refrain from enforcing facially invalid laws or policies against anyone, and not just the plaintiffs before it. (Judge Granade's orders up until this point-limited as they are to the actual plaintiffs before her-give no indication that she is among them.) For example, (now-retired) United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker (in San Francisco) is reported to have embraced this view when he issued an order whose plain language directed state officials to stop enforcing California's same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, against all same-sex couples, and not just the two couples who sued in his court. Judge Walker's apparent position-which was never fully tested because both the Governor and Attorney General of California chose not to try to continue enforcing Proposition 8-was in (unexplained) tension with current Ninth Circuit law, which embraces the more dominant view, described above, to the effect that the remedy must ordinarily be tailored to the plaintiffs only. The Ninth Circuit approach is supported by most (but not all) of the statements the Supreme Court has made on the topic, but candor compels the acknowledgement that the law in this area is not really settled and could definitely benefit from high Court attention and clarification.

Does Restricting a Federal District Court's Reach to the Plaintiffs Before it Make Sense?

Why might it be sensible for a federal district court judge not to be able to issue relief to anyone other than the plaintiffs in the case before it? Because, under the judicial system we have chosen, we have decided that federal district court opinions and decisions should, as a matter of governing precedent, have no binding effect on any other judges, even other federal judges located within the same district. This situation is to be contrasted with a ruling by the regional federal Court of Appeals or the United States Supreme Court. Once either of those courts has held Alabama's law invalid (and neither has yet-the Supreme Court chose not to block Judge Granade's ruling, but it won't decide the merits of the same-sex marriage constitutional question until later this year, at the earliest), then all judges, state and federal, within the state should surely obey that ruling, because the federal appellate court (whether it is the Eleventh Circuit or the Supreme Court) would have fashioned federal law that is supreme and applicable throughout the state. This is true even though state judges' rulings are not appealable to the Eleventh Circuit, insofar as all federal district judges in the circuit (who are bound by circuit precedent) would have no choice but to give injunctive relief to any same-sex couple who subsequently filed suit. Under those circumstances, it would be an utter waste of time (and perhaps a due process violation) for a state court judge not to give a license to someone who undeniably could get one by filing a federal suit anywhere in the state. Whether contempt sanctions are applicable or not, no judge or other state official would be justified in continuing to enforce a state law that a federal appellate court governing that state has held to be invalid.

But a ruling by a district court judge like Judge Granade has no such effect. Just because she ruled that Alabama's law violates the federal Constitution does not mean that other federal judges in Alabama would so rule if other same-sex couples filed suit in their courts. Her ruling is not binding precedent on them. Importantly, not all same-sex couples could properly sue in Judge Granade's district, and even if they did, other district court judges in that district to whom a new case might be assigned might rule differently on Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage. So Judge Granade's ruling-unlike one from the Eleventh Circuit or the Supreme Court-does not inevitably provide relief to any would-be federal-plaintiff same-sex couple in the state.

Perhaps an example will help drive home the point I'm making. Imagine that public universities throughout Alabama, pursuant to a state law policy, take race of applicants into account in a measured way in the admissions process, in order to assemble a diverse student body. Suppose a single unsuccessful applicant to a single public college in the state sues in federal court, bringing a facial challenge to the state's affirmative action policy on the ground that any use of race violates the Fourteenth Amendment. And suppose the district judge in that case rules (wrongly, to my mind, but not implausibly as a prediction of where the Supreme Court is headed) that all consideration of race is indeed barred by the Fourteenth Amendment. Could that judge apply her ruling to all the public universities in the state, and order all of the them (under pain of contempt) to refrain from considering race at all as they process the hundreds of of thousands of applications they receive each year, even though many other federal and state judges in the state would disagree with her interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment but might never have a chance to hear a case if her ruling were allowed to shut down statewide use of the policy? I think such remedial power by a single judge would raise many problems, and for that reason, if and when the Court clarifies district court remedial power, it might embrace what I have described here as the mildly dominant view limiting remedial authority to actual plaintiffs.

But, a reader might wonder, isn't there a difference between the affirmative-action hypothetical I posit and the same-sex marriage setting insofar as affirmative-action limitations at the high Court are still a matter of debate, while there is no longer any real doubt about whether the Supreme Court this summer will hold that all state-law discrimination against same-sex couples in the marriage arena is unconstitutional? Perhaps this prediction is quite sound, and state court judges would be justified if they chose to issue licenses on that basis, but I am not entirely sure that state court judges are required, as a matter of supreme federal law, to act on it now. All judges have a legal obligation to follow binding precedent from a higher court once it is handed down, but there may be no legal obligation-enforceable by contempt or otherwise-on lower court judges to see the writing on the wall.

December 19, 2014

The Year in Constitutional Review: Our Top 5 Constitutional Developments of 2014 (And None of Them Is a Supreme Court Decision!)

Co-authored with Professor Alan Brownstein. Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

As 2014 draws to a close, we thought it appropriate to reflect on some of the most significant constitutional developments of the past year. Recognizing that any short-list requires difficult choices, we present our catalog of five noteworthy constitutional events or trends (in no specific order) below. Most interestingly, none of the five involves a particular 2014 ruling from the Supreme Court; instead, the list shows that other institutional actors (sometimes feeding off what the Court has done in the past and often acting completely independently from the Court) are crucial in giving meaning to the Constitution.

#1. President Obama's Announcement of Immigration Enforcement (or non-Enforcement) Priorities

One of the biggest constitutional changes over the last century has surely been the rise in power and prominence of the presidency. The President and his executive branch have grown in influence and stature for a number of reasons. One is the modern need (in a world of increasing economic complexity and international linkages) for the federal government to make decisions quickly, decisively, and based on specialized expertise (as in the Great Depression) and sometimes making use of information that cannot be made fully public (as in the War on Terror). Another is the fact that, although the electoral college is still part of our constitutional fabric, we have moved in the direction of popular election of the President, such that he garners far more votes nationwide than does any other elected official, and thus has a special claim to national electoral legitimacy-unlike that of even the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority leader, the two elected leaders of Congress.

Many people embrace broadened Presidential authority, and many lament it. Some folks seem to have evolved in this regard. An example of such evolution might be Chief Justice John Roberts, who seemed to advocate for broad executive powers as a young government lawyer but who has recently bemoaned the fact that "the Framers could hardly have envisioned today's vast and varied federal bureaucracy and the authority administrative agencies now hold over our economic, social and political activities." But love it or hate it, broad executive discretion about whether and how to enforce laws is part of the federal constitutional landscape. And President Obama's recent announcement removing the threat of deportation for four million or so persons who entered or stayed in the United States in violation of immigration laws is a good example. Drawing on his key role in foreign affairs and law enforcement, and reminding the American people that he was reelected in part to manage the immigration problem (thus playing on both the reasons for presidential ascension mentioned above), Mr. Obama laid out his plans for how best to implement immigration laws in the near term. His announcement was a reminder of how, in the normal run of things, the President makes a lot of important decisions over which the Supreme Court may never have a say. (There have been lawsuits filed that test the President's actions here, and lower court judges are likely to express a range of opinions on the matter, but it remains unclear how the lower federal courts will ultimately adjudicate this issue and whether the Supreme Court will wade into this thicket.)

#2. The Events in Ferguson and NYC Regarding Police Actions Toward African American Men

A second set of events, involving local government rather than the federal government, raises important normative questions about race relations in the United States and public policy questions about the best way both to avoid these tragedies and to deal with them when they occur. We speak here, of course, of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and in New York City involving the killing of unarmed African Americans by police officers and the failure of grand juries to indict the officers involved. These police actions and grand jury decisions, like President Obama's immigration announcement, remind us of how powerful a device executive discretion is within our constitutional system.

But these episodes also remind us of another important constitutional theme. The 14th Amendment proclaims that "No State shall . . . deny to any person the equal protection of the laws." Surely, this provision requires the equal treatment of black and white Americans in the criminal justice system. If the equal protection of the laws means anything, it must mean that the use of force by police officers against persons alleged to violate the law cannot vary depending on the race of the perpetrator. Similarly, equal protection must require that prosecutors and grand juries ignore the race of both the police officer and the victim of the officer's conduct in determining whether the officer's use of force has violated the law.

Yet the Ferguson and New York City events reveal how little bite this constitutional guarantee has when the law gives government actors substantial, unguided discretion in performing their duties. Police officers have considerable discretion in determining whether and how much force should be used in the performance of their duties. Prosecutors have enormous discretion in deciding whether or not to bring charges to a grand jury and in determining how they will conduct the grand jury proceeding. Grand juries also have tremendous discretion. They can decide to indict a "ham sandwich," as the saying goes, or they can decide not to indict a police officer who has choked someone to death.

Because, in circumstances involving official discretion, it is often very difficult to determine the extent to which race influenced state action, the constitutional guarantee of equal protection has little ability to control such decision making. Perhaps the Constitution's primary and most effective role in these events is protecting the rights of individuals and groups to protest what they see as unsanctioned violations of the equal protection of the laws.

#3. Same-Sex Marriage in the Lower Courts

Equality was a theme not just in the Ferguson and New York controversies, but also in the treatment of same-sex marriage by the lower courts this year. Last year, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court teed up but did not resolve the question of whether states were prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment from treating same-sex marriages differently from opposite-sex marriages. And the lower federal courts have taken up that question in earnest ever since. Until the Sixth Circuit's decision to uphold same-sex marriage bans in four states this fall broke the momentum, same-sex marriage advocates had achieved an overwhelming number of lower court victories; four U.S. Courts of Appeals and over twenty federal district courts had struck down state laws discriminating against same-sex marriage. Indeed, until the Sixth Circuit's ruling by a divided three-judge panel in November, many commentators had concluded that the Supreme Court would not even take a marriage equality case anytime soon because the issue had essentially been resolved by the lower courts. Many of the lower court rulings took their cue from Windsor, of course, and now that the Sixth Circuit has created a split the Supreme Court will likely weigh in relatively soon-so no one is arguing the Supreme Court is irrelevant in this debate-but lower courts have definitely framed the issue and developed competing arguments in a way that makes it much harder for the Supreme Court to reject the right of same-sex couples to marry. For the marital equality movement, 2014 was the year of the lower courts.

# 4. Abortion Rights

The past year saw states continuing the recent trend of adopting and defending significant regulations of abortion services and access. The regulations vary in their content. Several states have enacted statutes (some of which are subject to lower court injunctions) that ban an abortion 20 weeks after fertilization occurs or at an even earlier time during the gestation period. Other regulations restrict the provision of medication used to induce an abortion. Other laws, responding to the new health care framework created by the Affordable Care Act, prohibit insurance offered through the Act's exchanges from covering abortions. Yet other laws regulate clinics that provide abortion services by requiring them to comply with the building, equipment, and staffing standards applicable to an ambulatory surgical center or a hospital. They also require physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The lower courts are continually reviewing the constitutionality of many of these regulations, but it is (aggressive) state legislatures that are driving this issue right now.

Certainly, the need for greater clarity in this area of the law is obvious. Under the doctrine initially evolving from Roe v. Wade, the Court applied strict scrutiny review to pre-viability abortion regulations that ostensibly furthered some important state interest, such as promoting the health of the mother, but also increased the cost of abortions or otherwise limited access to providers. Under this rigorous standard of review, a state had to demonstrate that its regulations furthered a compelling state interest and that the state adopted the least restrictive means to further its objectives. This two- pronged approach required courts to balance the effectiveness of a state's regulations against the burden the law imposed on the right to have an abortion.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, however, the Court collapsed the two-pronged approach used in prior cases and adopted a unitary standard. All pre-viability abortion regulations are now constitutionally permissible as long as they do not have "the purpose or effect of imposing an undue burden on women seeking abortion." This standard focuses on the magnitude of the burden, the percentage of women seeking abortions who will experience that burden, and whether the regulation serves some purpose other than the goal of inhibiting access to abortion services. The Court's application of this standard to various regulations in the Casey case itself has mystified both constitutional law scholars and lower courts. The number and highly restrictive nature of new abortion regulations may require Supreme Court intervention and clarification of this standard in the near future.

#5. The 2014 Congressional Election

Although we have highlighted the way institutions other than the Supreme Court (e.g., the President, local governments, lower courts, state legislatures) have helped shape the meaning of the Constitution in 2014, we would never deny the centrality of the Court itself in constitutional interpretation. And yet we must remember that the Court is not a static institution, but rather one whose membership and decisions change over time. So our final candidate for important constitutional developments of the year is the congressional election in November that saw the Republicans gain solid control of the U.S. Senate. Because replacing departing Justices with new members is the single most important way the Constitution has been kept responsive to the values of the people, decisions by the American electorate about who shall be the President (and nominate new members to the Court) and who shall control the Senate (and decide whether to confirm presidential nominations) are quintessentially important constitutional events. Regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican wins the White House in 2016, Republican control of the Senate for the foreseeable future is likely to influence the kind of persons appointed to the (closely divided) Court in the coming years, which in turn is likely to affect how the Court rules in many controversial constitutional areas. It is fitting, even as it is sometimes overlooked, that We the People remain the most important institutional actors in giving content to our basic government charter.

February 14, 2014

The Ninth Circuit, in SmithKline v. Abbott Labs, Bars Lawyers From Removing Gay/Lesbian Jurors: Part Two in a Two-Part Series

Co-authored with Alan Brownstein. Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

In Part One of this series, we began to analyze the recent decision from the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories. The three-judge panel there held that, in light of the Supreme Court's decision last summer in United States v. Windsor (invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA), all government discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is subject to "heightened scrutiny" under the Equal Protection Clause and that, accordingly, it violates the Constitution for lawyers to use peremptory challenges to strike would-be jurors on account of the juror's sexual orientation. (For background on the Abbott case and the general topic of peremptory challenges, readers may want to consult Part One.) In particular, we discussed whether the Ninth Circuit was right to read Windsor to have signaled a decision by the Supreme Court that intermediate level scrutiny governed DOMA, and that intermediate level scrutiny should also govern all other sexual-orientation-based discrimination.

The Abbott decision is already influencing litigation involving discrimination against gays and lesbians far beyond the issue of jury selection. Earlier this week, for example, as a result of the Abbott court's reasoning and holding, the Governor and Attorney General of Nevada announced that they would no longer defend the state's ban on same-sex marriages in federal court because the arguments supporting the ban were "no longer defensible." In the space below, however, we limit our analysis to the implications of Abbott for peremptory challenges generally and sexual-orientation-based peremptory challenges in particular.

Do Peremptory Challenges Threaten to "Exclude Entire Classes of Individuals?"

As one of us has noted in earlier writings, including a column posted here, courts have been reluctant to expand the list of juror attributes on which peremptories may not be exercised in part because of a concern over slippery slopes. If peremptories cannot be used on the basis of race, and gender and (now) sexual orientation, then what about disability, age, or alienage, etc.? While Judge Reinhardt's Ninth Circuit opinion in Abbott never really addresses this question directly, he implicitly suggests that limiting prohibitions on peremptories to only those groups that benefit from "heightened scrutiny" will arrest the slippery slope. In this regard, he analogizes to and quotes heavily from the cases the Court has handed down prohibiting race- and gender-based peremptories. He says, for example, drawing on the gender-based peremptory case, J.E.B. v. Alabama ex. rel. T.B., that "striking potential jurors on the basis of their gender harms 'the litigants, the community and the individual jurors' because it reinforces stereotypes and creates an appearance that the judicial system condones the exclusion of an entire class of individuals."

From one perspective, this kind of analysis is overblown particularly in cases like J.E.B. Peremptory challenges, even if used aggressively on the basis of gender, don't necessarily threaten to remove "an entire class of individuals" from juries, because both sides of a case get the same number of peremptories. If one side is removing women (as in J.E.B.), perhaps there is reason to believe the other side would be attempting to remove men. If these opposing uses of peremptories are equally effective, then there may be no reason to believe there would be fewer women on any particular jury, let alone across all juries.

The Special Case of Numerical Minorities, and Minorities Without a Natural Majority Counterpart

There are forceful responses to this suggestion, however, that may support Justice Reinhardt even though he doesn't really address this issue (or the nitty gritty of applying heightened scrutiny at all, for that matter.) First, the neutralizing effect of the opposing use of gender-based peremptories arises, if at all, only because men and women are roughly equal in number in most jurisdictions and (somewhat less so) in the draw of the would-be jurors and replacement jurors for any particular jury. But this neutralizing or offsetting effect is not present where the bases on which peremptories are exercised involve (numerical) minority and majority groups.

A simple numerical example may help drive the point home. Suppose a jurisdiction had a demographic makeup of 75% whites and 25% racial minorities. And suppose that the initial draw of twelve would-be jurors exactly mirrors these percentages-that is, nine whites and three non-white minorities are drawn. Suppose further that each side is given three peremptory strikes, and that each side uses its peremptories to aggressively remove people based on their white or minority race, respectively. So one side (perhaps the side of a Title VII minority plaintiff) uses its three strikes to remove three white would-be jurors, and the other side uses its three strikes to remove the three people of color who were initially drawn for the jury.

So now we are left with six whites, six slots to fill, and no peremptory challenges. Those six empty slots are then filled, and again, if we are assuming a draw that reflects the demographics of the larger pool, on average only 1.5 (or 25% of six) minority jurors would be selected, and 4.5 whites (75% of six) would join the group. The overall makeup of the jury after all is said and done would be 10.5 whites and 1.5 minority folks-half the number of minority persons who were initially drawn before each side was allowed to engage in a racial peremptory war. Because this scenario could repeat itself across many or most juries, allowing each side to use race to strike prospective jurors could very likely diminish minority jury participation writ large. This systemic effect is what makes the race-based peremptory-challenge cases easy to defend for those of us who care about inclusion and fair representation of the community on juries.

And what is true for race is also true for sexual orientation, insofar as gays and lesbians are, like persons of color, numerical minorities. Indeed, peremptory challenges, if allowed on the basis of sexual orientation, may be particularly likely to reduce participation of gays and lesbians on juries, writ large, because unlike race and gender, in the sexual orientation setting, it is less natural to think about "opposing" uses of peremptories. In the racial setting, if one side excludes blacks, the other may find it advantageous to remove whites. And the same is true for removing women and men. But even if one side tries to remove one or two would-be jurors because they are gay, the other side is less likely to think to remove other jurors because they are straight.

The problem here is that equal protection doctrine both legally and intuitively doesn't always operate with the kind of symmetry that the Court has developed in race and gender discrimination cases. In race and gender cases, the Court justified its application of heightened scrutiny initially by examining past discrimination against the class of racial minorities and women. Over time, however, the Court shifted its attention in these cases away from a suspect class and toward a suspect classification. The Court's focus was no longer on whether a law disadvantaged racial minorities or women, but rather on whether the challenged law employed a racial or gender classification.

But this shift from suspect class to suspect classification seems more counterintuitive when other equal protection cases are considered. Thus we think more about discrimination against aliens than we do citizenship classifications, more about discrimination against non-marital children than marital children classifications, and more about discrimination against gays and lesbians than sexual orientation classifications. Accordingly, it would hardly be surprising to discover that lawyers might not engage in any affirmative effort to identify and remove straights from a jury, generally speaking, the way they might identify and strike men, women, blacks, whites, and gays. So if sexual-orientation peremptories are permitted, then Judge Reinhardt's concern about the exclusion of an entire group must be taken seriously.

Implementing Abbott's equal protection ban on sexual-orientation-based peremptories might not be easy in practice, however. As Kathryne Young and others point out, unlike a person's race and sex, sexual orientation isn't obvious to an outside observer, so policing sexual orientation-based discrimination may raise distinctive problems. It is often difficult enough to prove that an attorney who is striking African-Americans or women is doing so because of their race or gender when the racial or gender identity of the stricken jurors is apparent. Objections to peremptory strikes based on sexual orientation may also involve placing some would-be jurors in the uncomfortable position of having to affirm or deny their membership in an LGBT group. The Ninth Circuit began to discuss these problems, but the implementation of this new rule will require more care and attention as it is applied in practice, which is often the case after cutting-edge constitutional decisions are rendered.

The Link Connecting Jury Service and Voting

Besides practical concerns, there is a more fundamental, theoretical objection to the constitutional doctrine developed by the Supreme Court and the lower courts in this area of law. That is whether the Equal Protection Clause is the appropriate prism through which to view the problem of juror exclusion in the first place. A different set of constitutional provisions, the provisions dealing with voting and other political rights, may provide a better foundation for helping courts to decide how skeptical to be about peremptory challenges. Jury service has traditionally been tied, and analogized, to voting, and this linkage makes sense: jurors, like individuals casting ballots for members of Congress or the President, exercise their power by voting for particular results; jurors implement policy when they decide cases, just as voters help shape policy by electing representatives or adopting initiatives. Indeed, until the later Twentieth Century, voting and jury service were considered "political rights" governed not so much by the Fourteenth Amendment, but more directly by the voting rights amendments, including the Fifteenth (which prohibits race discrimination in voting); the Nineteenth (which prohibits gender discrimination in voting); the Twenty-Fourth (which in effect prohibits wealth discrimination in voting), and the Twenty-Sixth (which prohibits age discrimination in voting.)

If we take the juror-as-voter analogy seriously, then removing people from juries becomes more problematic, because certainly we would not allow governmental actors (at least not since the Supreme Court decided important voting rights cases dating back to the 1960s) to prevent any would-be voter from participating in any particular election unless there were to be a compelling justification for doing so. This may partly explain why some Justices (most notably Justice Breyer) have, over the last few decades, been unmoved by the prospect of a slippery slope regarding peremptories, because these Justices think that the Court should reconsider whether any peremptory challenges can be constitutionally exercised.

But for those who are not yet ready to dispense with all peremptories, toeholds on the slippery slope are needed. One such toehold is hinted at in the analysis above-at the very least, the groups that receive textual protection in the Constitution from discrimination in voting (groups defined by race, gender, wealth and age in the voting rights amendments) should also be protected from discrimination in jury service. So far, the Supreme Court has embraced protection for the first three kinds of groups. Prospective jurors identified by race or gender are protected under explicit equal protection holdings, and jurors identified to some extent by economic class or status have been protected more ambiguously pursuant to the Court's general supervisory powers over the federal courts, The Court has not yet ruled on whether the fourth group, defined by age, should receive comparable protection.

On this analysis, peremptories that are used to exclude gay or lesbian persons wouldn't seem to implicate the voting rights amendments (unless we shoehorned sexual orientation discrimination into sex discrimination-an analysis with persuasive force in some circumstances, but not others.) But the political-rights paradigm (as distinguished from the equal protection framework) does help to explain why one group that is protected by equal protection doctrine from state-level discrimination-aliens-have no right to avoid exclusion from juries. Indeed, through most of modern American history, non-citizens have been ineligible to serve on juries (just as they have been ineligible to vote.) California has recently considered legislation that would allow non-citizens to serve on juries (and there would be no constitutional problem with such experimentation), but it is unlikely that courts will protect their access.

From this perspective, Judge Reinhardt's reasoning correctly recognizes that while the application of heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause to laws disadvantaging a particular class is certainly relevant to the review of peremptory challenges directed at class members, it cannot be a sufficient ground for holding that these challenges are unconstitutional. The alienage cases demonstrate that a class protected by heightened scrutiny review may still be excluded from jury service. Ultimately, it is necessary to return to our earlier points about what it is, exactly, that seems so problematic about certain kinds of peremptory challenges. Peremtory challenges directed at LGBT persons are problematic because they run a particularly high risk of eliminating a distinct set of voices from juries writ large. That is the kind of harm that requires a constitutional remedy.

Will the Supreme Court Review Abbott?

It is possible that the Ninth Circuit as a whole, en banc, will decide to review the three-judge panel's decision in Abbott. What about the Supreme Court? Shortly after Abbott came down, the thoughtful New York Times legal analyst Adam Liptak suggested there might be a split between Abbott and a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which opined that sexual orientation is not an invalid basis for peremptories, and that such a split may be of interest to the Supreme Court. We think the Court is unlikely to exercise its discretion to review Abbott for several reasons. For starters, there really is no split with the Eighth Circuit. The language in the Eighth Circuit case suggesting that sexual orientation is a permissible basis for peremptories was dicta, since the court in that case found that the lawyer did not base the peremptory in question on sexual orientation in the first place. Moreover, the Eighth Circuit case predates Windsor, so there is no split on the precise question Judge Reinhardt's opinion answered-whether Windsor fundamentally changed the constitutional standard of review regarding discrimination against gays and lesbians. . The Eighth Circuit hasn't weighed in on that question yet, so we don't know if the two circuits really disagree.

But even if another Circuit were to disagree with Abbott in the near future, we still would not expect the Supreme Court to grant review. The Court decided Windsor inscrutably (and dodged the merits altogether in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California Proposition 8 case) because the Court wasn't ready yet to resolve the basic same-sex marriage question, let alone whether all sexual-orientation discrimination is problematic. Taking review in Abbott would require the Court to resolve the very kinds of questions it has been trying to avoid. Last year, the Justices, as a group, seemed to want to buy some time to allow political deliberation to move forward on gay rights issues, and one year is simply not long enough for that to happen. Even though things have changed a great deal of late (with many more states embracing same-sex marriage), the times are still changing. Until the landscape begins to settle down, we would not expect the Court to reenter the picture if it can avoid doing so.

January 31, 2014

The Ninth Circuit, in SmithKline v. Abbott Labs, Bars Lawyers From Removing Gay/Lesbian Jurors

Co-authored with Alan Brownstein. Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

In today's column, the first in a two-part series, we begin to analyze and assess an important decision handed down last week by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concerning discrimination against would-be jurors who happen to be gay or lesbian. In SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories, a unanimous three-judge panel ruled that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause for a lawyer to "strike" (that is, remove) individuals from a jury panel on account of their sexual orientation. As one of us explained more fully in an earlier column previewing the Ninth Circuit oral argument last fall, the antitrust lawsuit involved HIV medications, and an attorney for one of the companies (Abbott) exercised a so-called "peremptory strike" (also known as a "peremptory challenge")-effectively removing an individual from inclusion in the jury-because the would-be juror was "or appears to be, could be, homosexual." Peremptory challenges allow each side of a case to strike an equal number of would-be jurors for no supportable reason, solely because of a lawyer's hunches or intuitions about how a particular person might behave and decide as a juror.

In holding that judicial acceptance of Abbott's peremptory challenge would violate the Constitution, the Ninth Circuit opinion, authored by Judge Reinhardt, made a number of analytic moves. First, the panel had to determine whether an earlier three-judge Ninth Circuit panel ruling from 2008, Witt v. Department of the Air Force-which held that governmental actions discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation need only satisfy the lowest, most deferential, "rational basis" standard in order to be upheld under the Equal Protection Clause-is still good law. If Witt's teaching that sexual orientation discrimination is not, as a general matter, subject to any kind of beefed-up constitutional scrutiny is still good law, it would be binding on the SmithKline panel judges, and the panel would have been required to come out the other way in SmithKline, since the Supreme Court has stated that peremptories may be used to remove individuals who are members of a class that is protected only by rational-basis review.

The SmithKline panel instead decided that Witt's rational-basis-review approach is inconsistent with-and thus no longer binding because of-the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor, the case decided last summer that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law denying recognition to same-sex marriages. The Ninth Circuit found Witt to be inconsistent with Windsor because the Court in Windsor, whether the Justices admitted it or not, effectively applied "heightened scrutiny" (rather than rational-basis review) in holding that the DOMA violated equal protection guarantees. The Ninth Circuit's reading of Windsor was crucial to getting around Witt. In this vein, the Ninth Circuit had to (and did) decide not only that Windsor applied heightened scrutiny to DOMA, but also that Windsor is not limited by the facts or context of that case, and instead stands for the legal proposition that heightened scrutiny now applies to all government actions that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Based on that conclusion, the Ninth Circuit went on to determine the result of heightened-scrutiny review of sexual orientation-based peremptory challenges under the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the space below, we focus on the beginning of Judge Reinhardt's analysis and examine the Ninth Circuit's initial moves-the notion that subsequent Supreme Court authority could, by implication, reverse earlier clear Ninth Circuit precedent, the determination that Windsor is best read as applying heightened scrutiny to DOMA, and the contention that Windsor effectively requires heightened scrutiny to be applied to all government discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In Part Two of this series, we examine some of the later moves that the Ninth Circuit made-including the application of heightened scrutiny in the peremptory challenge context-and also explore where the case may go from here.

Was the Ninth Circuit Right That Supreme Court Authority Can Implicitly Erase Earlier Circuit Precedent?

No one would deny that a Supreme Court ruling that directly contradicts a Circuit Court opinion, whether the Circuit opinion is recent or old, would effectively eliminate the precedential authority of the lower court's ruling. But the issue in SmithKline is a little different. The Ninth Circuit conceded that Windsor (the recent Supreme Court case) doesn't directly contradict Witt (the older Ninth Circuit ruling), but determined instead that the reasoning of Windsor is in tension with Witt-that the two cases seem to reflect different mindsets-so that if we had to predict how today's Supreme Court would decide Witt, we might bet that the Court would reach a result that is different from that reached by the Ninth Circuit in Witt.

One possible problem with the Ninth Circuit's getting around Witt by noting some analytic tension between it and Windsor's reasoning is the Supreme Court's own admonition that lower courts should not "underrule" older cases based on predictions about the direction in which the Supreme Court is headed. As the Court put the point in 1989 in Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/American Express, Inc.: "If a precedent of this Court has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions, the [lower courts] should follow the case which directly controls, leaving to this Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions."

One might think that this principle prevents the Ninth Circuit from ignoring Witt in favor of the new direction that is reflected by Windsor. But, in fact, the Shearson/American Express principle may have no application in this setting, because Witt (the older case that is arguably on point) is not a Supreme Court case, but rather simply a prior three-judge panel case from the Ninth Circuit. It is not obvious why three-judge panels of a Circuit court should bind subsequent three-judge panels of the same court in any event. The best answer is probably the need for some stability so that persons within a Circuit can know "what the law is." But these intra-court stability concerns are less weighty than the reasons that explain why Circuit courts have to obey older rulings from a superior court-the Supreme Court (or an en banc panel of the Circuit). "Vertical" hierarchy and obedience to precedents of higher courts implicate different concerns than "horizontal" stare decisis (whereby a court pays deference, even strict deference, to its own rulings). So the Ninth Circuit was correct to carefully examine Windsor to assess the level of tension between it and Witt. (If the Supreme Court had, in some prior case, clearly ruled that sexual orientation discrimination implicates only minimum-rationality review and not heightened review, then the Shearson/American Express principle might apply here. But the clear holding in Witt-that minimum rationality review applies-came from a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel, not the Supreme Court.)

Did the Court Properly Read Windsor as a Case Employing Heightened Scrutiny?

Judge Reinhardt concedes, as he must, that the Windsor opinion does not explicitly state the level of scrutiny that the Court is employing to strike down DOMA. Accordingly, he looks to three factors that Ninth Circuit precedent requires him to consider in order to determine whether the level of scrutiny utilized in Windsor was, in fact, more rigorous than the highly deferential, rational-basis standard of review. The three factors are: (1) whether the Windsor opinion considered post-hoc rationalizations for DOMA-hypothetical purposes that might conceivably justify the law-or instead focused only on the actual goals Congress relied upon in enacting the statute; (2) whether the Windsor opinion required that there be a "legitimate" state interest to "justify" the effect of the law; and (3) whether the cases that were cited in Windsor themselves applied rational-basis review or heightened scrutiny.

With regard to the first factor, Judge Reinhardt correctly concludes that Justice Kennedy's opinion in Windsor examines the actual purpose of DOMA in considerable detail, and that an emphasis on the legislature's actual purpose strongly suggests that some form of heightened scrutiny is being applied.

An analysis of the second factor-the requirement that there must be a legitimate state interest to justify the challenged law-is more complicated, however, because, in some circumstances, we think the insistence on "legitimate" purposes for upholding a law is consistent with an application of rational basis review. And in other contexts, doubts about the legitimacy of the state's purpose may undermine the validity of the law, but they do so outside of the framework of rational basis review, intermediate level scrutiny, or strict scrutiny. For these reasons, the use of the word "legitimate" is not a signal of heightened scrutiny.

When courts focus on the state's interest in equal protection cases, what differentiates rational basis review from intermediate-level scrutiny or strict scrutiny, as a formal doctrinal matter, is that the latter two standards require, respectively, an "important" or "compelling" state interest. Conversely, a modest or even marginal state interest can satisfy rational basis review. But under all three standards, the state's interest must be "legitimate." Suppose, for example, that Congress had adopted DOMA for the express purpose of complying with what Congress understood to be divine law condemning same-sex marriage. Obedience to religious requirements is not a legitimate state purpose. Even under rational basis review, a court cannot use this purpose as a post-hoc rationalization to sustain a law.

Another state interest that lacks legitimacy, and which is relied on in cases cited in Windsor, such as Texas v. Lawrence and Moreno v. Department of Agriculture, is the goal of degrading or demeaning a group because of bare animus toward its members. The nature and scope of this characterization of a purpose as "illegitimate" remain unclear. Certainly, the goal of demeaning and punishing drug dealers would not undermine the constitutionality of statutes criminalizing drug trafficking.

Moreover, and more directly relevant here, the conclusion that a law serves an illegitimate state interest does not trigger the application of heightened scrutiny so much as it does an automatic invalidation of the law without further review. Heightened scrutiny is often described as mechanism that enables courts to flesh out impermissible state purposes. If a court determines at the outset that a law serves illegitimate purposes through an independent analysis, there is no reason to "flesh out" what the court already knows.

Indeed, if we examine this section of Judge Reinhardt's opinion more closely, it appears that his emphasis on an inquiry into the legitimacy of a law does not really pertain to questions about whether a law serves impermissible purposes. Instead, Judge Reinhardt seems primarily concerned that the Windsor opinion discussed the harm caused by DOMA and the government's need to justify such consequences if the law was to withstand the equal protection challenge directed against it. Reinhardt argues that this kind of implicit balancing of interests suggests more rigorous scrutiny than the highly deferential rational basis standard of review.

Indeed, it does. But does this necessarily mean that the Windsor opinion was applying heightened scrutiny to DOMA? As Judge Reinhardt acknowledges in his discussion of the third factor-an examination of the cases cited in Windsor to determine whether or not they themselves employed heightened scrutiny-sometimes the Supreme Court has applied rational basis review to a law, but the scrutiny it employed was more rigorous than the conventional leniency associated with a rational basis analysis. Moreno, dealing with discrimination against "hippie" households, was one such case. Romer v. Evans, involving discrimination against gays and lesbians, also cited in Windsor, is another, as is Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., (a case that wasn't cited in Windsor) involving discrimination against the mentally retarded. One can certainly argue with some justification that the analysis in these hybrid rational basis cases arguably parallels the analysis in Windsor.

But it is less clear to us than it is to Judge Reinhardt that these "rational basis with teeth" cases should be characterized as applying heightened scrutiny, such that other laws burdening the same groups at issue in those cases in other settings would be subjected to rigorous review. As a general matter, we see no evidence that Cleburne or Moreno has changed the level of review applied to laws discriminating against the mentally retarded or "hippie" groups. True, these not-so-deferential rational-basis cases cannot easily be incorporated into the multi-tier system of review that the Court utilizes in equal protection cases. But at least for now, until the Supreme Court tells us otherwise, they are rational-basis cases.

As Judge Reinhardt acknowledges (and as we noted earlier), the Supreme Court has stated that "'(p)arties may . . . exercise their peremptory challenges to remove from the venire any group or class of individuals normally subject to 'rational basis' review.'" Accordingly, one may argue with considerable force that as long the Court considers cases like Romer, Moreno, and Cleburne to have been decided under rational basis review, lower courts adjudicating equal protection claims against the use of peremptory challenges to strike gays, hippies, and the disabled from juries have no discretion to invalidate these jury selection decisions.

Even if Windsor Applied Heightened Scrutiny, Did It Do So Under Equal Protection Alone?

Finally, Judge Reinhardt's opinion is as notable for what it omits as for what it says. There is virtually no mention in SmithKline of the federalism argument that makes up so much of Justice Kennedy's opinion in Windsor. Clearly, Justice Kennedy's majority writing in Windsor emphasizes the fact that the institution of marriage has been, and should be, a subject of state, rather than federal regulation. What is less clear in Windsor, however, is how this federalism analysis fits together with Justice Kennedy's equal protection arguments. The uncertainty about precisely how the structural (federalism) and rights-based (equal protection) arguments fit together to support the Court's holding in Windsor may have contributed to Judge Reinhardt's decision to ignore the federalism aspect of Windsor altogether, and discuss the equal protection analysis in isolation.

Yet we think there may be a meaningful way to integrate the federalism and rights-based arguments in Windsor. There is sometimes a structural dimension to equal protection doctrine. In equal protection cases involving discrimination against non-citizens, for example, the Court sharply distinguishes between the level of review applicable to state laws discriminating against non-citizens, and the standard applicable to federal laws involving similar discrimination. Because the power to regulate immigration and naturalization is vested in the national government, state laws discriminating against non-citizens are more problematic and suspicious than discriminatory federal legislation. Accordingly, state laws discriminating against non-citizens receive much more rigorous review. Even if the federal government can permissibly regulate where resident aliens may live in the United States, a state has no business burdening their mobility.

A similar but mirror image analysis arguably applies in Windsor. Because marriage is quintessentially a matter of state sovereignty and control, it is federal laws discriminating against couples a state deems to be married that seem suspicious and problematic and warrant at least rational basis with teeth review. Under this analysis, however, it is harder to read Windsor as holding that all laws discriminating against gays and lesbians should receive heightened scrutiny, where there is no structural basis for distinguishing between the exercise of federal or state sovereignty in the government's actions.

In Part Two of this series, which will appear on this site on February 14, we will continue our analysis of Judge Reinhardt's approach, and also discuss the likelihood that the Supreme Court would be interested in this case.

August 16, 2013

Another Front in the Same-Sex Equality Campaign: Jury Service, Peremptory Challenges, and the Smithkline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories Case Pending in the Ninth Circuit

Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

In the same-sex marriage cases that were heard and decided by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this summer, gay/lesbian rights advocates urged the Justices to declare broadly that laws that discriminate against persons based on sexual orientation should be considered constitutionally suspect, and thus should trigger "heightened judicial scrutiny."  That is another way of saying that any such law should be struck down by a court unless the government can prove, by convincing evidence, that the law really does accomplish important governmental objectives, and is not simply based on prejudice or outmoded stereotypes.  Under a "heightened scrutiny" test, federal and state bans on same-sex marriage would be very unlikely to survive.

The Supreme Court avoided answering this question of which "level of scrutiny" should apply to laws that differentiate among people on the basis of sexual orientation; indeed, if the Court had not avoided this question, it could not have effectively dodged the question it did not want to answer: whether all states have to recognize same-sex marriage.  But the Court's failure to address the "level of scrutiny" issue leaves unresolved questions regarding the legal treatment of sexual-orientation discrimination in other important settings besides marriage.  One such setting is raised by an interesting and important case, Smithkline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories, which is being argued next month in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  At issue in Smithkline Beecham is whether it is constitutionally permissible for a lawyer to "strike" (remove) would-be jurors from a case because of their sexual orientation.  In this antitrust lawsuit involving HIV medications, an attorney for one of the companies exercised a so-called "peremptory strike" (also known as a "peremptory challenge")-effectively removing a possible juror from inclusion in the jury-because the would-be juror was "or appears to be, could be, homosexual."  Peremptory challenges allow each side of a case to strike (remove) a certain number (with the number being equal for both sides) of would-be jurors for no supportable reason, but instead because of hunches or intuitions held by the lawyers about how sympathetic particular persons would be as jurors.

Background on the Theory and Practice of Peremptory Challenges

Peremptory challenges have been around in American jurisdictions for a long time.  They are distinguishable from so called "strikes for cause," a term used to describe the right each lawyer has to remove from the jury pool all persons who are shown to be actually incapable of rendering an impartial decision.  Some analysts think that if lawyers ask (as they may need to ask) tough questions to would-be jurors to determine whether particular individuals should be removed for cause, peremptory challenges are needed to remove those would-be jurors who might have been put off or offended by the tough questioning.  And some people (though not I) think that peremptory challenges enhance the legitimacy of the judicial system, insofar as the parties may more readily accept a decision that is reached by a decision-making body that they themselves helped shape. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that no constitutional right to peremptories exists; and some states have severely curtailed their use in state courts.

Moreover, while the essence of peremptories is that they needn't be based on any good reasons, the Supreme Court has held that they cannot be based on some bad reasons-most particularly, race and gender.  So whenever it is shown that a lawyer exercised a peremptory strike because of a would-be juror's race or sex, the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws is said to be violated.  (One might ask why the Equal Protection Clause governs private lawyers exercising peremptories in lawsuits between private parties.  The answer is that because trials are quintessentially governmental operations, and because it is technically the judge who dismisses a would-be juror from the pool-albeit at the behest of the lawyer exercising the strike-the Constitution's equality norms apply here.)  But the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have been reluctant to add other criteria, beyond race and sex, that are constitutionally impermissible bases for the use of peremptories (although one famous line of Supreme Court cases frowns on eliminating jurors because of wealth.)  In the Smithkine case, the Ninth Circuit will have to decide whether to add sexual orientation to the list of improper criteria.

An Understandable Concern About Slippery Slopes, and One Answer:  Eliminate Peremptories Altogether

The judicial reluctance to expand the list of bases on which peremptories may not be premised stems in part from a concern over slippery slopes.  As one lower court observed when confronted with the question whether age should be a constitutionally impermissible ground for peremptories:  "if the age classification is adopted, surely blue-collar workers, yuppies, Rotarians, Eagle Scouts, and an endless variety of other classifications will be entitled to similar treatment. These are not the groups that the court has traditionally sought to protect from under-representation on jury venires."

So the slippery slope problems here are real.  Over the past few decades, a handful of the Justices who have served on the Court, perhaps most notably Justice Breyer, have been unmoved by the prospect of a slippery slope regarding peremptories, because these Justices think that the Court should reconsider whether any peremptory challenges can be constitutionally exercised.  One reason for Justice Breyer's skepticism about peremptories is the difficulty of proving an improper motive on the part of lawyers.  Because peremptories are supposed to be usable based on irrational hunches, lawyers can give bizarre reasons to explain their use of peremptories and still must be believed, even if race or sex was, in fact, the actual motivation behind the peremptory strikes.  So eliminating race- or gender-based peremptories may, in the real world, require eliminating all peremptories.  (The Smithkline case illustrates this; it is remarkable that the case has made it this far, because the lawyer exercising the peremptory based on sexual orientation could likely have explained the peremptory on other, idiosyncratic grounds and been believed.)

The Link Between Jury Service and Voting

Another reason for being constitutionally skeptical about peremptories is that jury service has traditionally been tied, and analogized, to voting.  This linkage makes sense:  jurors, like individuals casting ballots for members of Congress or the President, exercise their power by voting for particular results; jurors implement policy when they decide cases, just as voters help shape policy by electing representatives or adopting initiatives.  And throughout American constitutional history, voting and jury service have been considered "political rights" governed not so much by the Fourteenth Amendment, but more directly by the Fifteenth (which prohibits race discrimination in voting); the Nineteenth (which prohibits gender discrimination in voting); the Twenty-Fourth (which in effect prohibits wealth discrimination in voting), and the Twenty-Sixth (which prohibits age discrimination in voting.)

If we take the juror-as-voter analogy seriously, then removing people from juries becomes more problematic, because certainly we would not allow governmental actors (at least not since the Supreme Court decided important cases dating back to the 1960s) to prevent any would-be voter from participating in any particular election unless there were a compelling justification for doing so.

But for those who are not yet ready to dispense with all peremptories, toeholds on the slippery slope are needed.  One such toehold is hinted at in the analysis above-at the very least, the groups that receive textual protection in the Constitution from discrimination in voting (groups defined by race, gender, wealth and age) should also be protected from discrimination in jury service.  So far, the Supreme Court has embraced protection for the first three kinds of groups (defined by race, gender and wealth) and has not ruled on the fourth (defined by age.)

The Role of Equal Protection Doctrine

Yet another set of stopping points down a slippery slope comes not from the voting rights amendments (the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th), but from equal protection doctrine.  The idea here would be that those groups of people who are generally protected from discrimination under the equal protection clause (groups defined by race, gender, marital status of parents, perhaps religion, etc.) should also be protected in the peremptory challenge setting.  That is why the Supreme Court's failure to make clear the standard of review it was applying in United States v. Windsor (the case from June striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA) becomes important here.

The oral argument in Smithkline should be interesting.  The panel of Judges Schroeder, Reinhardt and Berzon is, even more so than the three-judge panel in the Proposition 8 case, liberal by Ninth Circuit standards.  If one had to bet, one might expect this panel to frown on the use of sexual orientation as a basis for peremptories.  And if the Ninth Circuit does invalidate sexual-orientation-based peremptories, then the Supreme Court may end up being interested in the case, and could render a ruling that would, directly or indirectly, bear on the question of same-sex marriage bans too.  A lot to keep watch on in the coming months.

August 1, 2013

Why California Should Repeal Proposition 8

Part Two in a Two-Part Series on What Should Happen to Same-Sex Marriage in California After Hollingsworth v. Perry. Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

In the space below, I continue to analyze what will-and what should-happen to California's voter-adopted ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling earlier this summer in Hollingsworth v. Perry.  Two weeks ago, in Part One of this two-part series, I argued that the request made on July 11 by the proponents of Proposition 8 to get the California Supreme Court to order County Clerks to stop granting same-sex marriage licenses-Clerks have been issuing same-sex licenses for about a month-was unlikely to be successful.  Today, after elaborating a bit more on this post-Perry litigation, I move beyond the judicial arena to the ballot box, where I think repeal of Proposition 8 by the California electorate is feasible.

A Recent Development:  The San Diego County Clerk Asks the California Supreme Court to Weigh In

Shortly after my last column was posted, the County Clerk for San Diego County filed a separate request in the California Supreme Court asking for an order declaring that Proposition 8 should continue to be enforced by County Clerks, and preventing the Governor, the Attorney General, and the State Registrar from trying to force the San Diego Clerk to issue same-sex marriage licenses.  The San Diego Clerk's arguments echoed those made to the California Supreme Court by the initiative's proponents themselves the week before.  As it did with the proponents' request, the court refused to grant the San Diego Clerk an immediate block on same-sex marriage license issuance, but set a briefing schedule so that the court could decide whether to fully address the merits of the dispute in the coming month(s).

I don't expect the California Justices to accept the San Diego County Clerk's invitation to wade into this dispute in depth, for many of the same reasons that I discussed in Part One in connection with the proponents' request:  (1) The California Supreme Court's review is discretionary; (2) The case turns largely on the best way to interpret a federal district court order, and state courts will usually refrain from getting into contested interpretations of federal court orders; (3) The federal court order, by its straightforward terms, applies broadly to the County Clerks in Los Angeles and Alameda, so that unless those two individuals challenge the federal court order, same-sex marriage licenses will continue to issue from those Counties (and thus in the State) in any event; and (4)  Even if the state law questions-about the independence of County Clerks from the Governor or State Registrar and the obligation to continue to enforce laws that have not yet been invalidated by appellate courts-are interesting and important, there will be better cases down the road in which to reach those issues.

And here's an additional reason why the San Diego Clerk's request will likely be rejected by the California Supremes:  unlike the Proposition 8 proponents, the San Diego Clerk (who is arguably subject to the federal court order) might have standing in federal court to seek a ruling-from that court itself-that he is not covered by the federal order and will not be held in federal contempt if he refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses.  A federal court faced with such a such a case might, at that point, try to enlist the help of the California Supreme Court to answer the question whether County Clerks are subject to the "control or supervision" (the term used in the federal court order) of state-level officials.  But the California Supreme Court would seem well-advised to wait for such a request (if one ever materialized) before opining on these matters.

Moving from the Courtroom to the Ballot Box:  Repeal of a Measure No Longer Supported by the People

Based on the analysis offered above, I don't expect the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in California to stop anytime soon.  And so, for practical purposes at least, California's ban on same-sex marriage will become a dead letter.  Is that where the Proposition 8 political-legal opera should end?  To my mind, the answer is no; I think Proposition 8's true final Act should be repeal at the ballot box.

If Proposition 8 is not, in practice, limiting gay marriage, why would repeal be necessary or helpful?  For starters, we must remember that a judicial invalidation of a law and an injunction against its enforcement aren't the same as getting rid of the law; the measure remains on the books, and conceivably could spring back to life if a different Governor or Attorney General tried to reopen the case and undo the federal court injunction by defending Proposition 8 on the merits (something Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown, and Attorneys General Brown and Harris, never did.)  Cases (like Perry) that were never actually contested on the merits between the appropriate plaintiffs and defendants are-because of the absence of a true adversarial clash in the courtroom resulting in a judgment-strong candidates for reopening, should a particular Governor or Attorney General want to do so.

But, someone might respond, the political climate in California is moving in the opposite direction-in favor of, not against, same-sex marriage.  So the likelihood of a new Governor or Attorney General trying to resurrect Proposition 8-especially after hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples in the state already get married-is very slim.  I think that's probably true.  But remember that Governors and Attorney Generals get elected based on many issues, and they may win office in spite of, rather than because of, their position on any one subject.  Moreover, after they assume office, they sometimes take actions that seem to go against the views of a majority of voters, as Schwarzenegger and Brown themselves did when they refused to defend Proposition 8 when the Perry lawsuit was filed in 2009, a time when the state's electorate may very well still have favored the measure.

But all that brings me to the second, and more important, reason to repeal Proposition 8:  It no longer reflects the views of Californians, and state law on fundamental questions like this ought to accord with the true beliefs of state voters.  Proposition 8 passed in 2008 by a 52-48 margin, and a recent LATimes opinion poll suggests that a similar measure today would be supported by only 38% of voters, with 56% favoring same-sex marriage equality-a huge change in just five years.  But the only poll with true credibility is the one at the ballot box itself, and so Californians should revisit Proposition 8 in an election the next year or so.

And having California's laws line up with California's values will matter to people outside California as well.  As is now clear, after the Supreme Court's actions earlier this summer, the struggle over same-sex marriage rights in the United States continues to be waged in many, if not most, of the 35 or so states that do not allow same-sex marriage.  Having California in the "yes" column on same-sex marriage as a result of an election, rather than as the product of the actions of a small number of persons (a Governor and Attorney General who declined to defend, and an unelected District Court judge who issued an injunction), is important for political purposes in other states and, ultimately, for constitutional purposes when the U.S. Supreme Court returns to same-sex marriage rights-as it will almost certainly have to-in the coming years.  In Perry and United States v. Windsor (the case involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA) a month ago, the Court was able to avoid the question whether there is a national constitutional right to same-sex marriage, but it will have to answer that question directly in the next decade or so.  And there is broad agreement that the Court is keenly aware of national consensuses and national trends when it decides the content and scope of national constitutional rights (whether or not such awareness ought to be relevant).  Having California (which alone houses about 12% of all Americans) join the ranks of the same-sex marriage states through an affirmative act of its electorate will maximize its clout in these national processes.

The Logistics of Repeal:  Getting a Repeal Measure on the Ballot

Many measures that (like a repeal of Proposition 8) stand a good chance of success before the voters are nonetheless never acted upon because of the cost (often about a few million dollars) and headache of gathering the signatures required to qualify an initiative for California's statewide ballot.  But signature-gathering isn't the only way to get a measure on the ballot in California; if 2/3 of each house of the state legislature votes to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, the amendment is offered to the electorate.  For decades this route has seemed an unlikely one, because major ballot measures are often very polarizing along party lines, and neither political party has controlled 2/3 of each house of the legislature.  But today (and barring any very unusual events, for the next year at least) Democrats can be assured of occupying 2/3 of the seats of the California Assembly and Senate.  And there may very well be a number of Republican legislators who think that California voters should be given the chance to weigh in again on same-sex marriage, since the landscape has changed so much over the last half-decade.  So there seems to be a window for the California legislature to act, to let California voters speak once again on this most important of questions.  And even though some significant money may have to be spent in the ad campaign to get such a repeal enacted, I would expect-given the salience of this topic in California over the last few years and the movement reflected in recent opinion polls-the amount of money need not be that great, and in any event would be well-spent, given the alternative: months and perhaps years of technical wrangling in the state and federal courts, leading to an outcome that cannot easily to be said to derive from the California people themselves.

July 17, 2013

Why the Proponents of California’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Are Unlikely to Succeed in Getting the California Supreme Court to Enforce Proposition 8

Part One in a Two-Part Series on What Should Happen to Same-Sex Marriage in California after Hollingsworth v. Perry. Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

Last month's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the proponents of California's voter-enacted ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, lacked standing to represent the voters of the State even when the Attorney General and Governor declined to defend, combined with the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to lift the stay on trial judge Vaughn Walker's order blocking enforcement of the ban, effectively killed Proposition 8. But like a chicken with its head cut off, Proposition 8 is trying to act alive, even though it has no real chance of being revived. In the space below, Part One of a Two-Part series on the future of same-sex marriage in California, I analyze the latest developments in the struggle, especially the petition filed last week by the initiative's proponents in the California Supreme Court asking it to stop the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses. In Part Two of the series, scheduled to run August 2, 2013, I will sketch out what I think Californians should do to properly and finally lay Proposition 8 fully to rest.

A Quick Recap of the Action So Far

Let us begin by reviewing key aspects of the story to date: California voters passed Proposition 8 in 2008. In 2009, two same-sex couples (one from LA County and one from Alameda County) brought suit in federal court in San Francisco against, among others, the County Clerks in their respective counties, the Governor, the Attorney General and the State Registrar, alleging that Proposition 8 violated the federal Constitution. None of the named defendants defended on the merits-the Governor and Attorney General actually expressed agreement with the challengers-and federal trial court Judge Walker allowed the proponents (i.e., the measure's drafters/signature gatherers) to intervene to defend Proposition 8. In 2010, Judge Walker found that Proposition 8 violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and issued an order preventing all defendants, and any persons under their "control or supervision," from "applying or enforcing" Proposition 8. The proponents appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which promptly put a stay (hold) on Judge Walker's order, and then later (in 2012) affirmed Walker's ruling that Proposition 8 violates the federal Constitution (but left the stay intact pending possible Supreme Court review.)

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the proponents never had "standing" in federal court to represent the voters, and thus that they had no business appealing Judge Walker's ruling to either the Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated (erased) the Ninth Circuit's constitutional ruling, but the high Court left intact Judge Walker's decision (since the two same-sex couples clearly had to have the ability to challenge Proposition 8 in the trial court.) After this, the Ninth Circuit quickly lifted its stay on Judge Walker's order, and Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris instructed all county clerks to ignore Proposition 8 and issue same-sex marriage licenses. According to numerous press accounts, Clerks throughout the state have been doing exactly that since early July.

Last Week's Request by the Proponents to the California Supreme Court

On July 11, the proponents asked the California Supreme Court to order all County Clerks to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Their papers argue that Judge Walker's ruling-now being implemented-cannot legally apply, and does not apply, to anyone other than the two same-sex couples who filed suit. And since these two couples already have their licenses (they were among the first to be married after the Ninth Circuit lifted the stay), Judge Walker's order has done all that it was intended to do, and all it permissibly could do. The proponents argue that since Judge Walker's order is no longer relevant to any of the defendants or to any other same-sex California couples who wish to marry, County Clerks who continue to issue same-sex marriage licenses are violating Proposition 8, and are also violating state law principles that prevents any executive agency from failing to enforce a state law on the ground that it is unconstitutional unless any court is ordering the agency to do so, or unless an appellate court somewhere has invalidated the state law. Because the Ninth Circuit ruling striking down Proposition 8 was erased, the latter exception does not apply. And, again, because (the proponents say) Judge Walker's order is now completely satisfied, the former exception does not apply either.

To summarize, the proponents' request is based on three key assertions: (1) Judge Walker's order should not, as a matter of federal remedies law, have any effect beyond two couples who sued; (2) Judge Walker's order does not apply to any defendant any longer; (3) if Judge Walker's order is understood as being limited in this way, Clerks who ignore Proposition 8 are violating state law.

The Big Reason Proponents Are Unlikely to Succeed: Their Petition Rests on Contested Issues of Federal, Rather than State, Law

I do not think the California Supreme Court is likely to accept the proponents' invitation to stop same-sex marriage licenses from being issued. On Monday of this week, the court indicated it would not stop the marriages right away, but the full briefing schedule indicates that the court will not make a final decision on the proponents' petition until August at the earliest. It is telling, though, that the court did not enter an order directing Clerks to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses right now; if the court thought there was ultimately any significant chance it would grant the relief the proponents seek (ordering the enforcement of Proposition 8), the California Justices probably would have granted an immediate injunction, to reduce the number of same-sex marriages whose validity the court might have to deal with after all is said and done.

Why would the California Supreme Court be inclined to stay out of this matter? For starters, the California Supreme Court's review here is discretionary, not mandatory, and I expect the Justices will look for plausible, prudential reasons to stay out of, rather than excuses to jump into, a situation in which the Proposition 8 likely no longer reflects the desires of the California electorate. (A recent LA Times poll suggested same-sex marriage rights are favored by California registered voters by a margin of around 56-38.) To be sure, the Proposition 8 proponents are arguing that more is at stake here than simply same-sex marriage; the proponents claim that state officials are flouting the rule of law by refusing to comply with Proposition 8 until an appellate court has invalidated it on the merits. But the proponents' claim that the California Supreme Court can and should address this alleged lawlessness by state officials is open to some serious complexity and significant doubt.

The sponsors may be right (and I have written about this before) in saying that Judge Walker should not, as a matter of federal remedies law, have issued an order that granted relief beyond the two couples who actually sued. That is to say, the proponents may be right about the first of the three assertions I listed above. As I explained in an earlier column:

Under [a very plausible reading of the relevant cases,] the law of the Ninth Circuit (and perhaps also that of the Supreme Court) [suggests that] a district judge has no power, outside of a class action setting, to order relief that goes beyond protecting the named plaintiffs to also protect other would-be plaintiffs, unless full relief cannot be given to the named plaintiffs without also necessarily regulating the defendants' interactions with other persons. In the present setting, full relief (i.e., marriage licenses) can be given to the named plaintiffs [, the two couples who sued,] without ordering the defendants to give licenses to anyone else.

But even if the proponents are correct about this first point under federal remedies law (and some may argue that the Ninth Circuit cases don't mean what I think they do), the bigger problem for the proponents is their second assertion-that Judge Walker's order in fact does not go beyond the named plaintiffs. For whether he was right or wrong to do so, Judge Walker wrote and entered an order that-read most straightforwardly-does go beyond those two couples, to grant same-sex marriage rights to other couples in the State as well. This is most clear when it comes to the Clerks of Los Angeles and Alameda counties; Judge Walker's order directs them, in broad terms, not to enforce Proposition 8. Period. Whether Judge Walker should have added a phrase "as to the named plaintiffs," to this part of order, he did not. The most natural reading of the order is that these two defendant Clerks, as least, are simply not supposed to enforce Proposition 8.

The proponents' best argument (although they don't quite frame it this way), is that because it would be likely unlawful under federal law for Judge Walker to have granted relief to persons who weren't plaintiffs, we should in effect add the words "as to the named plaintiffs" to his directive to the LA and Alameda Clerks. In other words, because Judge Walker nowhere explicitly said his order should apply to non-plaintiffs, and because he doesn't have the power to provide a remedy to non-plaintiffs, we should read his order as if he agreed with the proponents that his order is in fact limited.

But I think it would be difficult, and perhaps violative of federalism principles, for the California Supreme Court to effectively add limiting words to Judge Walker's order. Ordinarily, interpreting or changing the scope of a federal court order is a matter for federal courts-not state courts-to undertake. And because the proponents' argument about the permissible power of a federal court to protect non-plaintiffs is itself a point of some contention under federal law, I don't think the California Supreme Court can easily agree with the proponents in resolving this federal question; questions about the scope of federal district court powers are not the kind the California Supreme Court exists to decide.

A federal court would be the more natural place, in the first instance, to argue that Judge Walker's order, as written, exceeds federal trial court powers and, for that reason, should be construed as narrowly as possible. After such guidance from the federal courts, the proponents could then make their state law claims in the California Supreme Court. But the proponents don't have standing in federal court to raise such an argument-that is what the U.S. Supreme Court held in Hollingsworth. The proponents filed last week's request in the State Supreme Court in part because California courts don't have the same rigid standing requirements, but that doesn't mean that the state court is going to be interested in resolving these thorny questions of what the federal court order could, and does, mean. (And notice that the Ninth Circuit could have narrowed Judge Walker's order to the named plaintiffs only before lifting the stay, but apparently chose to leave Judge Walker's edict completely intact.)

The Questions of State Law Raised by the Proponents' Request

It is true that, as to the other 56 County Clerks-who were not named in the federal lawsuit in Judge Walker's court-there is a question whether these Clerks are under the "control or supervision" of one of the defendants who is directly subject to Judge Walker's order, most plausibly the Governor or the State Registrar. And the question of whether County Clerks are under the control or supervision of the Governor or the State Registrar might very well be a question of state law as to which the California Supreme Court may someday want to provide a definitive answer. In a similar vein, the California Supreme Court may someday also want to answer the question whether a County Clerk who is not subject to a court order or to the control of the Governor or Registrar can refuse to enforce a state law on the ground that it is unconstitutional. (This is matter addressed by the third contention I identified in the proponents' papers.) But the California Supreme Court might feel that what is meant by "control or supervision," as the term is used in Judge Walker's order, is not determined by state law, but rather by what Judge Walker intended, in which case we are back to the problem of a state court trying to interpret and perhaps limit the effect of a federal court order.

Moreover, and more important, even if the 56 non-named County Clerks are not covered by Judge Walker's order (and thus should not, under the proponents' contested reading of state law, be ignoring Proposition 8), same-sex couples can go to LA or Alameda counties for marriage licenses (since, as discussed above, these two clerks at least would seem clearly to be covered by Walker's order.) And the California Supreme Court may rightly say to itself: "If Proposition 8 is going to die anyway-because the LA and Alameda County Clerks are required to issue same-sex marriage licenses-then there is no practical import of resolving big questions of state law, concerning the independence of County Clerks and the requirement to follow a state law until the law has been invalidated by an appellate court, in this setting. Better, perhaps, to wait for a case that is less politically charged, and one in which the resolution of these state law questions will affect the real-world state of affairs more."

Thus, although the California Supreme Court has asked the Attorney General to file full briefs explaining why the court should reject the proponents' requests for relief, and although the court will consider the matter carefully and likely not act in a final way on the proponents' petition until next month at the earliest, I don't expect the proponents to make any real headway. The federalism issues presented by a state court trying to read a federal court order in a particular way in order to justify reaching state law issues are, I think, too daunting. And on that basis the California Supremes will probably let things continue to run the course they are on-with same-sex marriage licenses continuing to be issued.

In Part Two of this series, I will explain why, even if the California Supreme Court stays out, and even if same-sex marriages continue in California indefinitely, there is virtue in the voters of the State formally repealing the no-longer-favored measure. And I will analyze how that could come about without great cost or delay.